More Toxic Runoff From Santa Susana Field Lab

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Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

More Toxic Runoff From Santa Susana Field Lab

Latest Monitoring Report Underlines Need for Stricter Contamination Curbs


Oakland, CA —One of the most toxic sites in the country continues to leak contaminants offsite, according to a pollution monitoring report posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite assurances the site complies with its water pollution discharge permit, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory experienced twelve permit violations and exceedances across six different outfalls just in the last quarter of 2021.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is now considering a proposed renewed discharge permit for the Boeing Co., the principal owner of 2,850-acre Santa Susana site, under greatly relaxed terms. Located just 10 miles from downtown and sitting at the headwaters of the LA River, the site holds a host of radionuclides such as plutonium-239 and strontium-90 (from a partial nuclear meltdown) as well as hundreds of toxic chemicals such as PCBs and dioxins.

The Board put forward its weakened draft permit in February, before the last quarter monitoring report was in. That report, covering the period from October to December, shows contaminants running off the site were as much as twenty-four times higher than the permit level. These new results also highlight troubling gaps in the proposed permit, in that –

    • Seven of the twelve violations and exceedances would no longer be counted were they to occur under the relaxed terms of the proposed permit.
    • Most of the polluted water flowing into the LA River would not be enforceable violations but treated as exceedances of non-enforceable “benchmarks”; and
    • The vast majority of toxic chemicals at Santa Susana may be released without any limit.

“These new results argue strongly for tightening permit standards, not loosening them,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Board tabled the proposed Santa Susana permit at its February meeting. “These continuing toxic outflows demonstrate that the regulators still do not have an effective check against poisoning surrounding communities.”

A central problem is that the Newsom administration has taken no steps to enforce legally binding orders requiring soil cleanup and permanent groundwater protections to be completed by 2017. In fact, the cleanup has yet to start as the Newsom administration continues closed door “negotiations” with Boeing.

“Without a comprehensive cleanup a discharge permit is like trying to hold muddy water in a sieve,” added Ruch. “After a cleanup there are no more contaminants to run offsite.”

In 2019, the Board waived $128,500 in assessed fines to Boeing for similar water pollution violations following the mammoth Woolsey Fire the previous year. That action took place without a Board hearing or any public notice. The Board has yet to announce how these new violations will be handled.


See summary of violations

View full monitoring report (Appendix D)

Examine critique of proposed permit

Revisit role of Boeing “contributions” in fine waivers

Look at Newsom backing off cleanup promises

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